By Paddy McGuffin, Morning Star
Anti-war campaigners have accused the police and government of attempting to prevent lawful protest outside the Iraq inquiry when Tony Blair gives evidence on Friday.
Organisers said that negotiations with police over the planned mass protest had broken down.
The vigil outside the QE2 conference centre in Westminster was due to take place on the patch of green immediately in front of the inquiry venue.
Campaigners have now been told that the area is private property, but that other locations further from the centre may be available as an alternative.
Both CND and Stop the War condemned the decision as politically motivated in a bid to spare Mr Blair's blushes.
A Stop the War spokeswoman said: "This is a denial of our democratic rights and we will now call for the widest possible mobilisation not just to express the majority view in this country that Tony Blair should be held to account for war crimes but in defence of the right to protest."
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "We have worked with Stop the War Coalition for some time now to try and accommodate their requirements to protest on Friday.
"We have had a useful dialogue and we were aiming to finalise plans for the exact location they will be able to protest. This decision was never ours alone to make - it is for the QE2 to decide who they allow onto the QE2's land."
QE2 centre chief executive Ernest Vincent said that, while they were co-operating with police, they had little input in the discussions and denied any political motivation.
"We are a commercially run organisation. The Iraq inquiry is but one event taking place on Friday and we have to respect all our occupants," he said.
CND chairwoman Kate Hudson described the decision as "disgraceful."
She said: "The police have stated they have no security objections to our vigil being held outside the inquiry. So we can only assume this is an attempt to protect Tony Blair from the overwhelming anti-war sentiment that exists in this country.
"It is only proper that he should see and hear those of us who have been proved right in our opposition to his war, particularly the many family members of those he sent to die."
Friday, January 29, 2010
By Paddy McGuffin, Morning Star
AFP story via The Sydney Morning Herald:
Former British prime minister Tony Blair began giving evidence to the public inquiry into the Iraq war on Friday, starting an eagerly awaited day of questioning into his account of the conflict.
Relatives of some of the 179 British soldiers killed in the conflict were among the audience watching the proceedings in a central London conference venue.
The chairman of the inquiry, retired civil servant John Chilcot, said the point of the questions would be to establish "Why did we invade Iraq?".
Chilcot acknowledged that Britain's involvement in Iraq "remains a divisive subject, it's one that provokes strong emotions" especially among the relatives of the British forces who died in the war.
However, he reiterated that his committee intended to identify the lessons to be learned from the conflict, but was not a court, adding: "The inquiry is not a trial." Related article: Blair slips past protesters
In reference to the anti-war protesters outside the conference centre, and reports that some of the members of the public inside were planning some kind of demonstration against Blair during the evidence, he urged calm.
"The committee hopes we can go about our business in an orderly way," Chilcot said, adding: "The right of our witness to respond must be respected."
He said Friday's session would focus on the run-up to the US-led invasion in 2003, the chaotic immediate aftermath of the war and the subsequent surge in violence.
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